Discount sales and markdowns are a way that retailers get customers into stores, but how does work with artists selling art? This blog post outlines 3 reasons why you should never have a sale, and suggest a couple of areas where an art sale can be a helpful strategy.
3 reasons why you should never have an art sale
1. It devalues your art – especially originals.
Having a sale price can imply to the customer that the artwork could be damaged, old, or that nobody else wanted to buy it. I’ll offer two examples to help describe the devaluing.
Example 1: Think about the last time you went to your favorite retailer and shopped in the clearance section. It’s usually a part of the store that’s in the far back area. Yes, there are some really good deals in the clearance section and you can find some great prices. However, overall the sale section will be the out-of-season products, slightly damaged items, and product buys that didn’t respond to customers.
Now apply this experience to your artwork. Do you want your customers coming to find the clearance or the “sale” section of your art? Or do you want them excited to see the original you just made or your new products?
Example 2: There is a booth at a local fair I go to twice a year that offers their product at a 50% reduced price every single show. I can’t be the only customer who has noticed that they offer this special every time they set up shop. The first time I saw this sale, it made a false sense of urgency. If I found something I liked, I needed to buy it right away to get the sale. But once I noticed this “sale” pattern, I feel like they overpriced their product to create a false sense of urgency for the quick sale. This strategy undermines the value of the items and the brand reputation.
So going back to the value of your own artwork. The psychology behind an art “sale” doesn’t mean that you can’t slightly adjust prices on originals for customers. Be open to negotiating prices with collectors. Slightly adjusting prices for buying multiple pieces, eating the cost of tax, or other collector discounts can apply. These are up to you (and the gallery you are working with), and isn’t a sale or a markdown.
2. It undermines gallery prices and competes with them
You can damage the professional relationship between you and a gallery when you set your prices lower than the gallery tag has for the same (or similar) works. Collectors will catch on to this and will purchase from you rather than the gallery. This is a problem because now you are competing with a gallery that is also trying to sell and promote you.
An important area to look at is the legal contract you signed with the gallery. Did you read the fine print? If the gallery finds out you are undercutting their prices to sell on the side, you could have some legal ramifications. And this warning isn’t just for artists with representation. You often sign gallery contracts for group and solo shows.
If you plan on permanently changing prices or doing some sort of sale. Let the gallery know. It’s better to communicate than to damage a professional relationship.
3. Trains your customers to wait until the next sale
Think about your own shopping habits. Do you have a few retailers you visit during their big annual sales? Do you know which places that are only worth shopping in the clearance section? You don’t want to be known as the artist that people go-to for the annual sale.
The way we market our own artwork can also train customers. Think about the language you use to market your artwork. Phrases like “art sale” and “art for sale” imply discounted prices (whether it’s discounted or not). Think about “art for purchase” or “new originals” “buy art, support artists” “available for purchase.”
It’s more exciting to train your customers that you have new work available every open house than to promote what’s in your misprint or damaged bin.
3 reasons when you should have an art sale
There are times when art sales are perfectly appropriate. Be purposeful on why art is marked down and how frequently you are using this sales tactic.
Having a small bin of prints or artwork you want to eliminate from your inventory is okay. A best practice is to choose products that are not also sold in galleries, local shops, or other venues. And the keyword is small. Avoid constant clearance bins and markdown prints. I would not promote or market the fact that you are offering this. Instead, promote the new work or new item for sale in your studio.
Studio Moving Sale
I personally feel like a studio or moving sale is the best time to actually have a sale. This occasion provides a one-time purpose for discounted items. It gives people the sale price without training them to expect future sales because your sale is circumstantial. It also eliminates the perception (or reality) that the work is old, damaged, unwanted, etc.
You may want to read this post on art inventories once you finish moving to get your art collection organized and cataloged. There are three blog posts, so there’s the link to the first one.
Sometimes when you work with galleries and retail stores, they need to put your work on sale or provide a markdown. Talk with them and make an agreement how this works. Who gets the reduction in the commission or revenue? Is the sale a permanent markdown or circumstantial? If it’s a permanent markdown, consider it time to pull the product from their inventory completely.